“We are saved to be a community, not a church of individuals.”
Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to spiritual formation today is busyness. I have written elsewhere that a basic pathway for spiritual formation, being formed into the character of Christ, is fourfold: intentional formative practices, time in solitude with God, time in community of a small group and time sharing your faith journey with another. Each of these requires that we slow down our lives. There is a sturdy biblical foundation for this. The second chapter of Genesis opens with a declaration that God has completed God’s work in six days and now sets aside the seventh day for rest. As my former teacher, Walter Brueggemann, once commented, we are not to read quickly past this seventh day as if it were a footnote. Here, God announces that there is something of infinitely more value than striving and producing. The remainder of the Bible speaks to this though Jesus states it succinctly for us, love God and love your neighbor. Simply, our primary business is to be in relationship with God and one another.
Many in the church have forgotten this. God’s seventh day has become a footnote, in very small print, as our lives become marked by ever escalating frantic activity. Lives are increasingly formed by the six days of the Genesis story and the seventh day, if considered at all, is regarded as a luxury or worse, that place where the lazy dwell. Spiritual formation might be the pursuit of some but its pursuit is largely done from a place of exhaustion and is unmoored from a small faith community. Without “rest” we imagine ourselves as more than the God who “rested from all the work that He had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3 NRSV) and separated from a small group, the pursuit is not Christian. As Brad House observes, we are saved to be a community, not a church of individuals.
If there is to be a recovery of a vibrant Christian church it will be with a recovery of a vibrant experience of Christ by those who comprise the membership of the church. That simply isn’t possible until the seventh day is lifted from a footnote at the bottom of our lives and returned to where God intends, as the capstone to all of our activity. In that seventh day, and I am speaking figuratively here, we pursue not greater output but greater attention to relationships, God and neighbor. Attention to neighbor is optimally and authentically realized through participation in a small group. By planting ourselves in the community of a small group and recovering this seventh day of God’s rhythm of creation, we will train our attention toward God and remain in touch with what really matters in the midst of the busyness and noise of the other six days.